New Rulers of the World: John Pilger's Documentary on Globalization 

Seventeen years after the documentary was released, The New Rulers of the World asks questions about globalization still relevant today. 

In 2001, journalist John Pilger released a documentary on globalization that shed light on its history and nature. Posing a critical perspective of the global political economy, Pilger places himself in what is termed as a 'revolutionist' school of thought within the field of International Relations (IR). Such revolutionists, like Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, hold to the belief that politics and economy are inherently connected, and that the current world order of capitalism is an exploitative mechanism of the upper classes.

With a critical perspective, The New Rulers of the World asks the question: Is globalization a new concept, or is it just a modern version of the divine right of kings, with Transnational Corporations (TNCs) taking place as the new rulers? Seventeen years later, the topic of globalization and its effects are still being debated. 

So, what is globalization? With the growing interconnectedness of the world, globalization has become a way of life we didn't even know we had. Globalization, essentially, is the growth in accessibility of our world due to innovations in technology, trade, and communications. In terms of the economy, we can easily find products from all over the world within our local shops because of the processes of globalization. 

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(Image source: IMDB.com)

The question of whether globalization is a 'good thing' depends on one's perspective. From a Western business's point of view, globalization is the key to prosperity and efficiency. Manufacturing companies outsource production to ease the cost of labour and raise investment. Such views conform to the liberal and neoclassical view of the economy. A contending and more critical view, however, is taken by Pilger and his documentary which looks at globalization from the other side. Pilger portrays globalization as capitalism on a global level, with rich countries taking advantage of the resources and labour of poor countries.

This is not the first time this concept has been suggested, in fact it is a well-known theory known as 'dependency theory'. This analysis, forming from the writings of Hans Singer (1910-2006) and Raul Prebisch (1901-1986), holds to the notion that the modern Western world (the 'core') follows the same patterns of colonial exploitation by using labour and resources from the third world (the 'periphery') to fuel their prosperity. Thus, a dependency is formed between the two sides.

"... the modern Western world (the 'core') follows the same patterns of colonial exploitation by using labour and resources from the third world (the 'periphery') to fuel their prosperity."

There is substantial criticism against those who adhere to ideas of dependency theory, most notably from those who follow more realist or liberal schools of thought. Today, the relevance of dependency theory is often debated. This article by the Guardian makes a case not to throw out the theory just yet. 

The clash between dependency theorists and anti-dependency theorists is manifested through Pilger's interviews with economists, government officials, and World Bank workers throughout the documentary.

The documentary is primarily focused on the effects globalization has had on Indonesia, filming several large brand name sweatshops and the over-crowded slums where factory workers live. As he interviews workers with hidden faces, Pilger shines a light on the extreme circumstances factory workers are subject to, including working standing 24 hour shifts in crowded, sweltering factories for less than living wages.

Why do these workers choose to work in such conditions? Most workers do not have the luxury of choosing the right job. At the time of the documentary, unemployment was so high in Indonesia that workers would do any job if it meant wages.

This rise in unemployment came in the aftermath of a crushing financial crisis in 1998, where the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank came in to aid the country in its recovery. Western-created organizations, the IMF and World Bank coordinate what is known as 'structural adjustment programs'. This means that in addition to lending to ailing states, these organizations provide financial advice and strategy to the borrowing country, usually advocating neoliberal financial processes.

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Dependency theorists often see the IMF and World Bank as more mechanisms of Western imperialism because of this. Pilger notably criticizes the actions of the World Bank and the IMF during Indonesia's violent regime change, which put dictator General Suharto into power and opened up Indonesia's economy globally- benefiting the economies of the US and Britain.

Pilger speaks of the 'vicious cycle of poverty' in which debt is paid for by the removal of jobs, public programs, and social needs, making the poor even poorer while the rich reap from the benefits of the cheap labour. He notes that the gap between rich and poor has never been wider. Pilger then asks the controversial question: why not just eradicate the debt? It seems like a simple answer- get rid of the debt and get rid of the poverty.

But, as stated by IMF managing director Stanley Fischer (now the former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve) in his interview with Pilger, debt is a vital part of financial processes domestically and globally. Fischer states that to cancel the debt would mean the country could never borrow again, and not have the means to enhance itself. Here is where Pilger and Fischer, in a tense interview, clearly differ- and where the ideals of the liberal and the critical clash.

What is the right answer? The problem of poverty eradication and the ideas of Western domination are issues that have been debated by scholars, professionals, and thinkers of all types- all of whom have their own ideals and perspectives that frame their answers. Seventeen years later, as the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen, the debate continues on.  

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